The 3-wood can be one of the deadliest weapons in your golfing arsenal when you know how to use it.
If you’re struggling with hitting driver off the tee, you can switch to your 3-wood to try and get more shots in play.
If you’re in the middle of the fairway on a Par 5, a well-struck 3-wood can give you the chance of hitting the green in two shots and sinking an eagle putt (provided you’ve picked the right line and sorted your grip technique).
In summary, hitting a 3-wood well comes down to these 7 key steps:
- Make sure you have a good lie
- Position the ball forward in your stance
- Set up with your weight evenly distributed
- Keep your chest over the ball
- Don’t overswing and maintain a smooth tempo
- Transfer weight into your lead leg in the downswing
- Don’t try and take a huge divot
I’ve been using my TaylorMade SIM Max 3-wood since it was gifted to me as a birthday present and it has fast become my favourite club in the bag – so much that I don’t think I’ll ever swap it, much like European star Henrik Stenson did with his iconic, blue-shafted Callaway Diablo Octane Tour model only to re-add it to his bag later.
Honestly, the sound my SIM Max makes is incredible and the penetrating flight it gets through the air is something you have to see for yourself.
But, for many amateur golfers – as was the case with me – it can take a while to master the art of hitting a 3-wood, especially if you’re playing from the fairway (or are daring enough to attempt it from the rough).
I’ve spent many hours trawling YouTube to learn from some of the top online instructors – along with getting some great tips from my local teaching pro – which I’ve condensed into this easy-to-read guide that will help you start flushing your 3-wood in no time.
So, without anything further, let’s answer the number one question that has brought you to this article and expand on the dot-points I’ve listed above.
How do you hit a 3-wood well?
Hitting a 3-wood well requires good rhythm and balance, a smooth tempo, a correct weight shift into your lead leg and – most importantly – an attack angle into the ball that isn’t too steep. If struck well, you should barely make a divot when striking your 3-wood from the fairway.
Many amateur players’ palms begin to sweat at the thought of hitting a 3-wood off the deck.
Their brain starts spinning and becomes filled with thoughts of ‘I need to get the ball into the air’, and in an attempt to do this they usually do one of two things:
- Top the ball along the ground after trying to pick it off the turf to get it airborne (rather than letting the club’s loft do all the work)
- Chunk the ball, take a huge divot or hit a big slice due to thinking they need to strike excessively down on the shot in order to get the ball airborne (which often creates a steep club and over-the-top swing path)
Both of these thought processes and actions are an incorrect approach to hitting your 3-wood well.
The steps below will help put you on the right path to flushing your 3-wood in no-time – either off the fairway or tee – with zero stress.
Step 1: Make sure you have a good lie
Before you even pull your 3-wood out of your bag, you need to check you have a decent lie – as trying to hit this club out of a fairway divot or the rough can be extremely difficult and risky.
While the pros can make it look easy on TV, most amateurs should stick to hitting their 3-woods off good lies (until their skills improve enough that they can attempt trickier situations).
When assessing your lie, make sure the ball is sitting up nicely and that you can plenty of clubface onto the back of it – ideally, you want the majority of the ball to be visible.
If your lie looks good, it’s time to grab your 3-wood and set yourself up correctly, which brings us to the next step…
Step 2: Position the ball forward in your stance
Set up over the ball with your feet roughly shoulder width apart, or slightly wider, and you should aim to position the ball in line with your left eye (for a right-handed player).
As we’ve explained in another in-depth article about ball position, the longer the club is, the farther forward you want it in your stance as it will help you deliver the club from the inside a lot easier.
Playing a 3-wood from the middle or back of your stance will tend to create a steep attack angle into the ball, leading to a deep divot or over-the-top move that will prevent you making the nice, sweeping, shallow motion that is essential for striking this club well.
Step 3: Set up with your weight evenly distributed
One of the biggest mistakes many players make when setting up to hit a 3-wood is hanging back too far on their trail leg, in the often-talked about ‘Reverse K’ position that is sometimes encouraged when hitting driver.
Unfortunately, lots of amateurs think in order to get their 3-wood in the air, they need to replicate a set-up position used for driver, as tilting slightly behind the ball will help improve their launch.
This thinking doesn’t tend to work very well when using a 3-wood and will more likely lead to either fat or topped shots.
The key to hitting 3-wood well, especially off the fairway, is creating a stable base by ensuring your weight is evenly distributed 50-50 on both legs.
Step 4: Keep your chest over the ball
Once you’ve created a solid platform with your legs and even weight distribution, the final piece to completing the perfect set-up with a 3-wood is to keep your chest centred over the ball.
Placing the ball farther forward in your stance, as described earlier, can sometimes cause players to tilt their chest far too much behind neutral (similar to what I explained above when players hang back on their trail side).
While you want the ball positioned inside your left eye, it’s important to keep your chest centred and covering the ball, not tilted too far backwards.
This will assist greatly with keeping your balance through the shot and controlling the low-point of your swing arc, allowing you to consistently strike the ball with a neutral attack angle and reducing your chances of fatting or thinning it.
Step 5: Don’t overswing and maintain a smooth tempo
Now that your ball position is correct, your weight is even and your chest centred, the next key step to striking your 3-wood like a tour pro is to swing with a smooth, rhythmic tempo.
I’ve gone into more detail about this in another article (which touches on tempo), but swinging your longer clubs – such as your 3-wood or long irons – should feel effortless.
If you haven’t already developed a pre-shot routine, then I suggest you do so quickly as creating this repeatable process can reduce anxiety and help you perform better under pressure – and there are few things more stress-inducing than trying to hit a 3-wood into a small Par 5 green.
While the pros can really crank up the club speed when launching into their 3-wood, I’d recommend mid-to-high handicap players focus on swinging at around 80 percent of their maximum until they really begin to feel confident using the club.
A great way to practice this balanced rhythm is by swinging barefoot when you’re at the range, as you won’t be able to swing out of your shoes (because you won’t be wearing any).
Step 6: Transfer weight into your lead leg in the downswing
In golf, instructors often talk about the importance of shifting your weight into your lead side – and this couldn’t be truer when you have a 3-wood in your hand.
The first will lead to good results, the second will lead to bad results.
I’ve written articles on how to do both (follow the links above) that will give you some solid pointers on how to move correctly and avoid swaying.
A proper weight transfer will let you compress the ball effectively, leading to better control and flight, which are essential when hitting irons, hybrids and especially 3-woods.
Step 7: Don’t try and take a huge divot
The last step to flushing your 3-wood may seem straight-forward, but it’s something many players struggle with – and that’s knowing how big a divot to take.
As we’ve explained in another detailed article about divots, you don’t want to be taking a crater out of the ground with your longer clubs and 3-wood is no exception.
A lot of the time, mid-to-high handicappers get so worried about topping the ball when hitting 3-wood that they overcompensate and come extremely steep into impact, causing an overly negative attack angle that creates a big, deep divot.
Instead, you should try to create a ‘sweeping’ sensation when using your longer clubs from the fairway and barely take a divot – ideally, you should shave the top layer of grass without barely breaking below the surface.
Now that I’ve explained the 7 steps to hitting a 3-wood better, let’s move on to some other commonly asked questions many players have about using this club.
When should you use a 3-wood?
You can use a 3-wood in a number of ways including from the fairway when trying to reach a Par 5 in two shots; off the tee when faced with a narrow fairway; playing a bump-and-run from just off the green; and even from light rough to bunt the ball back in play.
If you’ve had a dirty day on the greens and snapped your putter in a fit of rage (just like Si Woo Kim did at the 2021 US Masters), you can even use your 3-wood to putt with – however, we wouldn’t recommend this as it’s pretty hard to do effectively.
In summary, the best way to use your 3-wood is detailed below:
From the fairway: The primary use for a 3-wood is to allow you to reach Par 5 greens in two and give yourself a chance at an eagle putt. Remember, make sure your lie is good enough to allow you to make solid contact with the ball before attempting this.
Off the tee: I use my 3-wood off the tee a lot as it’s easier to control than driver and gives me more confidence that I can hit the fairway when faced with a tight, narrow landing area. Your 3-wood travels far enough that you can still give yourself a short iron or wedge into most Par 4s, and is a great option if your driver is misbehaving and landing you in the rough.
Playing bump-and-runs: While a chipper or a 7-iron are the most common clubs to use when playing bump-and-runs, your 3-wood can also be a deadly weapon when used just off the green – especially when you’re playing off a tight lie. The wide clubhead and sole gives you more room for error if you don’t strike the ball 100 percent perfect, and is an easy way to bunt the ball onto the green and let it run out towards the hole.
Why is the 3-wood so hard to hit?
The 3-wood is hard to hit for a few reasons, namely: it has a long shaft but a small clubhead, leaving little room for error; it looks vastly different to an iron at address which can create anxiety in amateur players; and it doesn’t drive through the turf as easily as a short iron when played from the fairway.
All of these elements combine to create a perception that the 3-wood is one of the hardest clubs in your bag to strike well.
There’s a great saying in golf, made famous by six-time major champion Lee Trevino, that goes: “If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Even God can’t hit a 1-iron.“
While this is an amusing anecdote, it builds doubt in amateur players when hitting longer clubs – and this also applies to 3-woods.
While 3-woods may seem difficult to hit at first, if you practice regularly, set-up properly at address and don’t overswing you’ll find it’s not actually that hard to do.
Do you hit up or down on a 3-wood?
A 3-wood should be struck with a neutral or slightly negative attack angle when played from the fairway. When hitting 3-wood from a tee, you should aim to create a neutral or slightly positive attack angle at impact as this will help generate extra distance.
The reason your attack angle can vary in these two scenarios is that hitting from the fairway requires you to treat your 3-wood more like an iron (and compress the ball), while playing from a tee gives you a little more freedom to tee the ball up slightly and hit it more on the up (similar to a driver, yet not to that extreme).
So, to answer the question: you should err on the side of hitting slightly down on the ball with your 3-wood when playing from the middle of the fairway, and either neutral or slightly up when playing from a tee.
Which brings us to the next common query…
How high should you tee a 3-wood?
You should tee the ball no higher than 10-15 millimetres off the ground when hitting a 3-wood. If you wish to tee the ball up, it must not be higher than the crown of your club as setting it too high may cause you to swing under the ball and pop it high into the air.
Because the 3-wood has a narrow clubface, teeing it too high can lead to you ‘doming’ the ball, meaning you’ve sliced way under the ball and contacted it with the top of your club (this will often leave a visible mark on the crown).
Players who are new to golf have a tendency to tee their ball with a 3-wood the same as they would with driver, which is a recipe for disaster.
If you see your friend or playing partner doing this, maybe kindly suggest they tee the ball lower for better results with their 3-wood if the opportunity arises (no-one likes unsolicited advice on the golf course, and you should only do this if you’re certain the person will be OK with some constructive feedback).
Similarly, there are specially-made 3-wood tees you can use that will enable you to tee the ball up to an optimal height every time to take to the course.
What loft should my 3-wood be?
A 3-wood generally has 15-16 degrees of loft, which is 5-6 more degrees than a standard driver. The loft will vary from club to club. For example, the Taylormade SIM Max 2 comes in a stock 16 degrees, while the Callaway Epic Speed comes in 15 degrees.
You can, of course, buy these clubs with more loft, however they no longer are a 3-wood and instead become a 4, 5 or 7 wood – all of which have their purposes and can be great alternatives to a hybrid.
Do you hit a 3-wood like an iron?
Yes, you should hit your 3-wood like an iron – more specifically, a 3 or 4-iron. Your set-up position, including stance and body tilt, should be the same for a 3-wood as a long iron. Your ball position should also be slightly forward of centre when hitting 3-woods and long irons.
If you’re a good long iron player, you should have no problems using a 3-wood as the principles to hitting each club well are almost identical.
Obviously, some players will prefer using long irons over 3-woods (whether it’s because of how they look at address, or interact with the turf at impact) but they should be played in the same way.
The 3-wood can be one of the most useful, versatile and deadly clubs in your bag once you learn how to use it.
Forget the people who tell you how hard the club is to hit – if you practice the steps above and believe in your ability to strike it well, along with removing your anxiety when standing over the ball, you’ll soon discover its actually not as difficult as what people think.
Focus on your ball position, set-up and balance and you’ll be flushing your 3-wood into Par 5s in no time and sinking that eagle putt you’ve always dreamed of.